Matter of: William Connolly File: B-250376 Date: March 15, 1993

B-250376: Mar 15, 1993

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CIVILIAN PERSONNEL Travel Advances Overpayments Debt collection Waiver An employee assigned to duty at an overseas location was evacuated from there to a safehaven location in Washington. He was issued a travel order properly authorizing him reduced per diem but erroneously authorizing him automobile rental at his safehaven. Was given a travel advance. He may not be reimbursed for automobile rental since there is no authority for such reimbursement in the governing regulation. While the unliquidated part of a travel advance is to be repaid. Since that part was spent for automobile rental in detrimental reliance on the erroneous travel order. Repayment of that amount is waived under 5 U.S.C.

Matter of: William Connolly File: B-250376 Date: March 15, 1993

CIVILIAN PERSONNEL Travel Advances Overpayments Debt collection Waiver An employee assigned to duty at an overseas location was evacuated from there to a safehaven location in Washington, D.C. because of civil unrest. He was issued a travel order properly authorizing him reduced per diem but erroneously authorizing him automobile rental at his safehaven, and was given a travel advance. He may not be reimbursed for automobile rental since there is no authority for such reimbursement in the governing regulation, Standardized Regulations (Government Civilians, Foreign Areas). While the unliquidated part of a travel advance is to be repaid, since that part was spent for automobile rental in detrimental reliance on the erroneous travel order, repayment of that amount is waived under 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5584 (1988).

DECISION This decision is in response to a request from the Chief, Financial Operations Division, Office of the Comptroller, United States Information Agency (USIA).[1] It involves the entitlement of an employee to be reimbursed expenses incurred while in an ordered evacuation status in the Washington, D.C., area from Liberia during the period April 1990 to April 1991. If it is determined that he is not entitled to be reimbursed those expenses, since he received a travel advance to cover those expenses, the agency asks whether repayment of any portion of the travel advance may be waived? For the following reasons, we conclude that he is not entitled to expense reimbursement for any period after his first 180 days in an evacuation status, but since the travel advance was used for expenses in reliance on erroneous orders, repayment of the travel advance is waived.

Mr. William Connolly, a Foreign Service officer employed by the USIA, was assigned to the American Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia. In April 1990, the Department of State issued evacuation orders to all United States personnel stationed in Liberia because of the civil unrest there. Mr. Connolly was evacuated to the Washington, D.C., area where he continued to perform full-time duties with the USIA's Bureau of Broadcasting for the 180-day evacuation status period.

Because the civil unrest in Liberia continued, the USIA issued travel orders for him on October 22, 1990, extending his evacuation status for an additional 180 days. These orders authorized him to receive a reduced per diem only for meals and incidental expenses (M&IE) at the locality rate because he was residing with friends in nearby Maryland. In addition, he was authorized to rent an automobile and authorized travel advances during the period, totaling $8,000.

Mr. Connolly submitted a claim for M&IE for the second 180-day period and an additional claim for car rental, parking, subway and gasoline charges in the amount of $7,256.23. The agency allowed M&IE at $33 a day for the 180 days ($5,940), and disallowed the remaining transportation and commuting expenses. The reason given for the disallowance was that there is no provision under the applicable standardized regulations (Government Civilians, Foreign Areas) authorizing an evacuated employee to be reimbursed for automobile rental or for the expense of commuting between his place of lodging and his work site at his evacuation point. Mr. Connolly has appealed that disallowance.

We agree with the agency's position regarding disallowance of Mr. Connolly's automobile rental and commuting expenses. However, we do not agree that Mr. Connolly is entitled to the M&IE payment.

The statutory authority for payment of monetary amounts to evacuees from foreign areas is contained in 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5523 (1988). Subsection 5523(a) authorizes these payments for 60 days and goes on to permit the President to extend that period "for not more than 120 additional days." Thus, the maximum period during which an evacuee at a safehaven location may receive an expense allowance incident to that evacuation is 180 days.

In the present situation, Mr. Connolly's claim covers a 180-day period, beginning on the 181st day after his ordered evacuation from Liberia. As the State Department recognizes, authorization expires after 180 days and no further evacuation payments may be made. Therefore, the second travel order was erroneous and Mr. Connolly is not entitled to reimbursement for the expenses claimed and the travel advance received ($8,000) became a debt due the United States.[2]

Notwithstanding that, under the authority of 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5584 (1988), a debt arising from overpayments of travel and transportation expenses may be waived where collection would be against equity and good conscience and not in the best interests of the United States, provided there is no indication of fraud, misrepresentation, fault, or lack of good faith on the part of any person having an interest in obtaining waiver of the claim. We have held that a travel advance payment is subject to waiver to the extent it was made to cover expenses erroneously authorized and the employee actually spent the advance in detrimental reliance on the erroneous travel orders. Major Kenneth M. Dieter, 67 Comp.Gen. 496 (1988).

In this case, Mr. Connolly was erroneously authorized M&IE and the rental of an automobile. At the time of settlement on his voucher he was erroneously paid $5,940 for M&IE by deduction from his travel advance. In addition, he incurred car rental expenses well in excess of the travel advance balance of $2,060 in detrimental reliance on the erroneous orders. In view thereof, we hereby waive his debt in the amount of $8,000.

1. Mr. James Q. Kohler, Jr.

2. 5 U.S.C. Sec. 5705 (1988); 64 Comp.Gen. 142 (1984).